Preaching the Big Questions 2016 Edition

Last year, just after Easter, I started a sermon series called Preaching the Big Questions. Members of the congregation were invited to vote on one of the Big Questions below, or to write their own question, on a slip of paper. Week after week, I attempted to address a different question, and you can read some of those sermons here: #PTBQ.

We’ll do it again this year. Here are the sample questions. Which would you want to hear about? What’s your own question that I’ve not thought of? Tell me in the comments.

Why does evil exist in the world?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why is there so much violence committed in the name of God? Will only Christians be saved?
Is the world really coming to an end?
What must I do to go to heaven?
Is heaven a real place?
How do I know my sins have been forgiven?
How can I become a faithful follower of Jesus Christ?

Look where you’re going – Sermon for 26 June 2016

The Readings (Track 2). 

What we have in today’s Scripture is advice about how to follow. Elijah calls Elisha, and Elisha follows. Jesus talks to some people about following him, and he makes it clear that it’s neither as easy as it looks, nor as glorious as they might think.

Let’s begin with the portion from the Hebrew Scriptures, from 1st Kings. First, some context on the Prophet Elijah. After the glorious days of Kings David and Solomon, it was a bad time in the promised land. The kings were often inept, or corrupt. They turned aside from God and worshiped other gods. The people did too. The prophets tried to speak out and keep the chosen people anchored in the commandments of the most high. The prophets caused trouble, and they were killed. Continue reading Look where you’re going – Sermon for 26 June 2016

Naked and afraid — sermon for 19 June 2016

Hello everyone! It’s good to be back after two Sundays away. It has been a wild week, one week since a massacre in Orlando. Several of us were here on Wednesday night for a mass in commemoration of the dead, and several more of us were at the candlelight Vigil on Thursday on the University campus.

I’m not going to make Orlando the central topic of today’s sermon. A week on, some of us still need it to be front and center of our attention. Others of us don’t. I’m not sure what the right balance is for today, for these readings, for this community, and for today’s need.

Today, I want to talk instead about clothing.

There’s a saying that you may have heard before: Clothes make the man. Have you heard that? It’s a misquote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Mark Twain twisted the saying with his amazing wit, when he said “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

But just think about clothes and what they represent. Think for a moment of all the uniforms we have. The right clothing allows us to identify a police officer or a flight attendant or a letter carrier for the postal service. Playing a sport, you know who’s on your team based on the clothing they wear.

Judges wear their black robes. Hospital workers wear their scrubs. Clergy wear our cassocks and collars. The clothing is the label, the outward marker of the profession, and it’s very helpful.

Clothes are part of our human story. Nations have their distinctive dress. Very few societies that I can think of forgo clothing of any sort. Humanity is a clothing-wearing species.

So did you notice the poor man in our gospel today? The one who is possessed by the demons called Legion? Did you notice that he is naked at the beginning? Naked, living in the cemetery?

This possession, this occupation by these pesky demons, have literally robbed the man of his humanity.

And this is ultimately a story of a healing. Jesus heals this man and sets him free. In a sense, he sets the demons free as well, if you listened closely. Both the man and the demons beg Jesus to, basically to just leave them alone, not to torment them, not to send them back to the abyss. That’s all too common, my brothers and sisters. When a person has been wounded again and again, it can become nearly impossible for them to see a positive change. There is either the suffering that they know, or a change for the worse.

And so this story is very different from many of the other stories of healing in the Gospels. Think of the others, for a moment: people are always rushing to Jesus, asking for healing, asking for mercy, begging him to help so much that sometimes he has to flee to get away from the crowds. But then this poor man can only beg Jesus not to torment him, ask though he were not already in torment!

So there he sits, naked and afraid, vulnerable and convinced somehow that it cannot get better than this, and can only get worse if Jesus gets involved. Naked and afraid. Unclothed and thus un-human.

Somewhere in our hearts, we’re all a bit like him. Everyone is hurting to some degree, tormented to some degree. Some of us, we know it. We can see it and feel it. Some of us are in denial about it. Some of us managed to live apparently quite comfortable and successful lives, unaware of the ways in which we are still trapped. But just as clothing is part of what it means to be human, so also imprisonment in suffering is part of what it means to be human.

Paul wrote that in his letter to the Galatians. We heard it today: Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

So this is it in a nutshell, as Paul sees it: We are imprisoned, until faith in Christ sets us free. We are trapped, until faith in Christ liberates us. We are set free when we weave our lives into the life of Christ, and this happens in our baptism. And what does Paul tell us about that? “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” There are many ways to understand Baptism, and this is one: when you come up from the font, it is like Christ is a cloak, and you have wrapped it around you. You put on Christ.

So here we are, in a simple way of understanding our life, and life in Christ: we are naked and afraid, like this man in the cemetery, living amongst the dead, bursting free of his chains but never free of his demons, denied all of the beauty and dignity and astounding potential of his created glory.

And then we put on Christ, we are clothed in Christ, we don the uniform that gives us our identity and shows us our true identity, revealed in the one who was perfect God and perfect human. And it is not just our identity. It enables us to see in a new way the shared essential nature that we share with all people. Paul continues: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

“When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”

Clothed with Christ, freed from his demons, and once again fully human.

There are still demons in this world. There are still torments. There is still suffering. Orlando reminds us of that. But in Christ we are set free from the trap and the cycle. We find always a better way to hope and a hopeful way to live, because we remember our own humanity, and the humanity that we share with all other people.

Always this is our anchor, even in times of great grief, and great confusion, and great frustration, and great fear. Indeed this is our anchor especially in these times. When forces of destruction threaten to divide and demolish, the knowledge that we are children of God, clothed with the divine, and one in Christ Jesus keeps us connected to our humanity.

Always our Christ-wrapped humanity shapes our response to great evil. We stand in grief for the dead and wounded of Orlando, and for all acts of violence, because in our shared humanity we can sense the pain of loss. We stand in sympathy and solidarity with LGBTQ community across this country, because in our shared humanity we hear their fear and rage and sorrow. We stand in compassion for the murderer as well, if we can, for in our shared humanity we remember that humanity was not created for that kind of evil.

And yes, that is a challenging thing to do. It would be much easier for us to chain up the evildoers of this world and throw away the key. It is harder to do what Jesus did today, to see the trapped and tormented man within.

But it is possible. Indeed, it is I believe a necessary part of our ministry to this world, to discover how to see the humanity in all people and to love it. Can we say that all 50 of those who died a week ago are our brothers and sisters? The gay people as well as the straight? The people of color as well as the white people? The murderer as well as his victims? “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.

For all the dead, for those who mourn, for those who rage, for those who fear, for the LGBTQ community, for the people of Orlando, and for ourselves, we pray Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Diamonds and Crosses: On Baseball and the Episcopal Church

Just up the road from me is a ballpark, the wonderfully-named Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. It is the home of the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The first few games that I went to this season featured temperatures in the 40s. One day game was delayed for freezing rain. In fact, it snowed on opening day. And yet, despite winter’s tenacity, baseball is the surest sign that spring has arrived in America. As I contemplate the placid beauty of a well-groomed diamond, the beauty of the double-play, the might of the home run, the meaning-making core of the spiritual soul can begin to see points of connection between baseball and the Episcopal Church.

Flickr user Werner Kunz. Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Flickr user Werner Kunz. Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Continue reading Diamonds and Crosses: On Baseball and the Episcopal Church

Worthy or unworthy – Sermon for 29 May 2016

Who is worthy of the gifts of God?
Who deserves grace?
Who should have forgiveness and healing and who shouldn’t have them?

These questions matter, because we humans are always judging people. We’re very good at it. In a minutes I’ll say two reasons why I think we’re so good at judging people, but I’ll just give you a moment to agree with me *smile* when I say that we’re good at judging people. {Read the readings. We use track 2.}

Continue reading Worthy or unworthy – Sermon for 29 May 2016

It’s the best word we have – sermon for Trinity Sunday 2016

This is Trinity Sunday!

Trinity Sunday is the Sunday after Pentecost each year. We are, of course, Trinity Episcopal Church, so this is sort of a special day for us.

It is also a major feast day in the church year. It’s one of the top seven, what we call Principal Feasts. They’re in the prayer book on page 15, and they’re the days in the calendar that outrank everything else: Christmas Day, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, All Saints, and Trinity. 5 of those commemorate major events in the life of Jesus Christ. That makes sense. We’re pretty centered on Jesus Christ and his life. One fo those, All Saints, is dedicated to, well, all the saints, the communion of saints, which collectively witness to the power of Jesus Christ in human life, in all its manifold variety.  Continue reading It’s the best word we have – sermon for Trinity Sunday 2016

The Lord, the Giver of Life – Sermon for Pentecost 2016

Today is the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. On this day we remember and celebrate the moment when the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, as Christ had advised them to do. On that day, the Holy Spirit descended upon them, and they were changed. They were enlightened by the Spirit and they were empowered by the Spirit.

But how were they enlightened, and for what mission were they empowered? Continue reading The Lord, the Giver of Life – Sermon for Pentecost 2016

Silence – sermon for 8 May 2016

I was at the Chamber Singers concert last night, as were a number of you. I wasn’t following along in my program. The choir started on a piece and I knew in an instant that it was Handel. Sure enough… it was from the Dettingen Te Deum. It just sounded like Handel. It’s the same with composers, current bands, artists, writers… we can get to know the feel of their work. It’s the same with the gospels.

Each of the Gospels has a different feel, a different sound, as distinct as the characteristic sounds of different composers. Once you read them enough, it only takes a few verses to make a pretty good guess. “Oh, that’s probably Luke.” “Oh, that sounds like Mark.” Continue reading Silence – sermon for 8 May 2016

On the Ascension

From today’s sermon: “Christ had to bid farewell to the disciples as he was in his mortal body, so that he could be immortally and spiritually present to all creation. … No location could be more blessed than another by his presence, whether Jerusalem, or Galilee, or Oshkosh, because after his ascension all of humanity is equally distant from him, and equally close to him. So now we don’t measure the distance to Christ in terms of miles, but in terms of holiness, and devotion, and the availability of our hearts.”

swirls-69963_1280

 Image from pixabay

I’ve made a cycling blog

Two Wheels No Clue
Two Wheels No Clue

I’m doing cycling now.

It’s been a minor goal of mine to try to commute via bicycle at least a little bit, to reduce my car driving and to increase my physical activity. I’ve been putting it off for, oh, years. So a few days ago I just jumped back into it.

Anyway, I’ve started a blog for bike-related stuff, so I can keep this space more church/preaching/theology/Christ-centered. Bookmark, then, if you care, 2wheels0clue.blogspot.com/.